Someone has said that an ungrateful man is like a hog under a tree eating apples and never looking up to see where they come from. How often do we look up to see where our blessings come from?
The Prophet Joseph Smith is reported to have said that one of the greatest sins for which the Latter-day Saints would be guilty would be ingratitude. I presume most of us have not thought of that as a serious sin. There’s a great tendency for us in our prayers to ask for additional blessings. Sometimes I feel we need to devote more of our prayers to expressions of gratitude and thanksgiving for blessings already received.
I do not think we’re less grateful than other people—but we have so much more to be grateful for. This was driven home to me as a young man when my grandfather, who had been the bishop of a little country ward in Whitney, Idaho, told me about a visit made to his house by Elder Joseph F. Smith, who would later become President of the Church.
Grandfather said that they were seated in the living room/dining room combination of the farmhouse. The table was laden with good things to eat. The family was gathered around. Just before they were ready to start the meal, Elder Smith stretched his long arms over the table and turned to my grandfather and said, “Brother Benson, all this and the gospel too!” What did he mean? All this and the gospel too! The food represented the material blessings of life—food, clothing, and all the rest. This family of children—home, family, loved ones—all that the world has and the gospel too. I think that’s what the President had in mind.
We’re so inclined to take our blessings for granted. Many of us haven’t known anything else. I haven’t. I was born in the Church. I received the priesthood as a boy 12 years of age. It came so easy to me. I don’t believe I fully appreciated it.
I am reminded of an experience I had at the end of World War II. I received a telephone call from a man in New York, a multimillionaire who had a son in a military camp just outside of Salt Lake City. This young man had expected to be shipped overseas. Then the war ended and he remained in this camp, crowded like a sardine in a can. The boy was discouraged, and his father was worried. “Would you see if you can cheer him up a bit?” the father asked. I said I would be happy to.
I called the young man and invited him into the office for a little visit. When he arrived, I said, “Would you like to go have dinner with the family? My wife doesn’t know you’re coming, but you’ll be welcome.” He said, “I can’t imagine anything I’d rather do tonight.” We went out and had our dinner. We had our prayer. We gathered around the piano afterwards and enjoyed ourselves with some singing. Then after we visited for a while, I drove him down to his bus.
In a few days I got a letter from his father, and you’d have thought I’d saved that boy’s life. The father quoted the letter from his son, “Father, I didn’t know that there were any people in this world that lived like that.”
Yes, we take it for granted. Here was a man worth millions of dollars—could buy his son anything—and yet this simple thing of prayer and devotion in the home passed him by.
We need to be more grateful. It’s one of the marks of strong character, to have a feeling of thanksgiving and gratitude for blessings that are ours. We need more of that spirit in our homes, in our daily associations, in church, everywhere. It’s so easy to cultivate the spirit of appreciation.
I traveled the wonderful state of Idaho for eight years for the university. I went to every town and hamlet, and it was not uncommon for me to be away for two weeks. Then I’d go home and, as a stake officer, change clothes and be gone again. Once when this happened, one of my little girls came to the door, waved, and said, “Come again, Daddy.”
I used to miss my family, and one particular Sunday I found myself in Pocatello, Idaho. I got thinking about my family, so far away, and I thought, “Well, I’ll just run down to Whitney and see if I can attend sacrament service.” I arrived just as the meeting was about to start. The bishop invited me to sit with him on the stand.
The meeting started, and the counselor who was conducting called on me to say a few words. I had been sitting there thinking, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could be home every Sunday and go to church with my family? Just think what a joy it would be.” Well, as he introduced me, he said, “Brothers and sisters, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a job like Brother Benson? He’s always on a trip.” I thought, “Yes, how true to life. Distant pastures usually look greener.”
I hope we can be happy where we are, be grateful for our blessings—now, here—accept the challenge that is ours and make the most of it, and not be envious of others.
A young couple I know bought 40 acres of raw land. They were going to raise peaches. They had leveled the land, planted the trees, and then weeded and irrigated and watched until the time had come when they’d have a harvest. This particular spring the orchard was a sea of blossoms, and it looked as though they were going to have a bounteous harvest. Then without warning a frost wiped out practically the entire crop overnight. Well, young John didn’t go to church the next Sunday, nor the next Sunday, nor the next. Finally his good bishop came out to see what was wrong.
He found John in the field and said, “John, we haven’t seen you in church for several weeks. Is anything wrong?” John said, “I’m not coming anymore. Do you think I can worship a God who would let this happen to me?”
Of course, the bishop felt sorrowful and he expressed his feelings to John. And as he looked down at the ground for a moment, he said, “John, I’m sure the Lord knows that you can’t produce the best peaches with frost. But I’m also sure He knows that He can’t produce the best people without frost, and the Lord is interested in producing people, not peaches.” Well, John went to church the next Sunday, and another year a harvest came. He learned a valuable lesson that helped keep him active in the Church all his life.
Whom the Lord loveth, he chasteneth. It is in the depths, not at the pinnacle of success, where men and women learn the lessons that help to make them strong. The hour of a man’s success is his greatest danger. It sometimes takes reverses to develop us into strong, courageous characters.
When reverses come, we need the Church and the gospel all the more. I’m satisfied that it’s possible for men and women who have testimonies of the divinity of this work to meet any possible reversal and still keep their spirit sweet and their faith strong.
I saw members of this Church in Europe right after World War II. Some of them were homeless, others the only remaining members of once happy and prosperous families. But each stood and bore testimony of the divinity of this work and thanked God for His blessings—the blessings of the eternity of the marriage covenant, the conviction that family continues beyond the veil, that there is life after death, that there will be a happy reunion for those who live worthily.
Yes, with the help of our Heavenly Father and His blessings, we can meet every reversal that can possibly come. And every reversal can be turned to our benefit and blessing and will make us stronger, more courageous, more godlike.
I often think of the Prophet Joseph—to me the greatest prophet who has ever lived upon the face of the earth, save Jesus only, whom he represented and served. I think of his trials and tribulations. I thought of them as I once stood in Liberty Jail. He was in that filthy jail, surrounded by vile men, not for a period of days or weeks, but months. And finally, when it seemed as though he could stand it no longer, Joseph cried out and asked Heavenly Father why He would not intervene.
The answer came in revelation to the Prophet in these words:
“My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment:
“And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes” (D&C 121:7–8).
Later the Lord uttered this significant statement:
“Know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good” (D&C 122:7).
God help us to be grateful for our blessings and never to be guilty of the sin of ingratitude.
“And he who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even an hundred fold, yea, more” (D&C 78:19).